New site writer ChahDresh takes a look at the cream of the crop from Worlds and tries to figure out what it means.
Hello, all. I’ve been wargaming for fourteen years now. I picked up X-Wing two years ago and was immediately enthralled. After spending that much time consuming content about the game, I feel it’s time for me to give back a bit, starting with a discussion of recent events—namely, Worlds.
Today we’ll be looking at the lists of the top 41 players: those that managed at least six wins during the Swiss rounds prior to the cut. We’ll use their lists to make all sorts of wild assertions to support our favorite narratives, because that’s what the internet is for and it’s fun. Kidding aside, there is a danger I’d like for you to keep in mind during this discussion. We’ll call it elitism bias. If list ‘a’ is believed to be slightly better than list ‘b’, then players who are trying to compete at high levels will tend to gravitate towards list ‘a’. If those players actually perform well at said tournaments, it reinforces the feedback loop that ‘a’ is a good list, exaggerating how good it appears to be. As they say in pro sports, “It’s a copycat league”—and while not every NFL team can get a copy of Tom Brady to run whatever the New England Patriots are doing this year, anyone can pick up a couple of Jumpmasters and try their hand at Dengaroo. Whoops, spoiler alert. Anyway, try to remember this effect as we go.
We might call this the year that Scum truly ascended to the level of the game’s other two factions. In last year’s worlds, Scum was represented largely by two builds: Thug Life (4x Twin Laser Turret Y-Wings) and Brobots (two of the IG-88-piloted Aggressors). Some good pilots did very well with these lists, and one got all the way to the quarterfinals, but given how many other ships were available to Scum even then, it was a bit of a letdown.
Consider that rectified. While some players continued to show the viability of the old standards in experienced hands, the more recent waves of Scum ships have been sweeping through tournaments everywhere. They continued the trend at Worlds, taking not only the top spot but 19 of the 41 six-winners. Even Paul Heaver, three time Worlds champion with Rebels, got on the Scum bandwagon.
This is even more remarkable considering that the most infamous Scum build, Triple U-Boats, was nerfed in the recent FAQ. (The notion of using the FAQ as a balance tool, like a patch for a video game, is a topic for another article.) Dengaroo replaced it as the most common single archetype for Scum, with five of the 19 Scum elites flying it. Even that understates the significance of the Jumpmaster: three other lists ran Dengar without Manaroo (and four more ran Dengar crew—the dude gets around!) while another ran Manaroo without Dengar.
Who run Bartertown? Dengar run Bartertown!
This isn’t a return to the days of only two lists for Scum, though. Remarkably, every Scum big ship made at least one appearance in the top 41—yes, even the maligned Firespray-31. Few pilots were able to productively use the YV-666 at last year’s Worlds, but it turned out they just needed the right upgrade cards: the “Party Bus” build including 4-LOM, Zuckuss, and Dengar didn’t exist until Wave 8, and it (perhaps inadvertently) revitalized the Hound’s Tooth. Six Party Bus YVs made it to the top 41. Zuckuss also found his way into four other lists, meaning he appeared in nearly a quarter of the top 41. It makes sense: with Palp Aces and TIE Defenders stacking tokens like there’s no tomorrow, Zuckuss provides a way to repeatedly break down those defenses. Plus, once you’ve used him once, there’s basically no cost in using him to the hilt, so his drawback becomes a non-factor.
It’s curious: When Scum were initially introduced, the Illicit slot on their ships was thought to be the way to deliver the edge they needed to compete. These days it appears that Scum-only Crew cards are the key. Scum big ships give you the crew slots you need, with remarkably generous dials—and then this happens: nine Scum players declined to fill available Illicit slots, but every single crew slot on every single Scum ship was filled.
How Many Ships?
Aside from two players running Thug Life, every Scum player had at least one big ship, and two-ship builds were very common. But it wasn’t just Scum that relied on quality over quantity. In the top 41 there were 17 two-ship lists, 20 three-ship lists, 2 Thug Lifers as the only four-ship lists, and a lone five-ship Rebel Swarm.
2-ships – why take more?
My explanation for this: player fatigue. It’s hard work playing six games of X-Wing in a single day. It’s hard work planning out the maneuvers for eight ships in a single game. It’s very, very hard to plan out the maneuvers for eight ships across six games. Swarm styles are mentally exhausting even when they’re effective. If a swarm is balanced against other types of lists in an individual game, it will be at a disadvantage in games four, five, and six, just because the player no longer has the juice to play well. Competitive players know this, and tend to avoid the style (elitism bias again). You can decide for yourself if this is a problem that needs to be fixed.
In the same vein, it’s worth noting that not all two- or three-ship lists are created equal in this regard. Manaroo and Palp-mobiles tend to be flown very conservatively, reducing how much a player needs to think about them and freeing up more mental energy towards driving Dengar/the aces.
Ah, yes, Palp Aces. Palpatine was as ubiquitous as Zuckuss, appearing in ten of the top 41 lists—but since Imperials were twelve of the top 41, it means the Emperor was personally present in 83% of the qualifying Imperial lists. Of those, 8 were the traditional “Palp Aces” lists with Palp in a Shuttle with some high-value escorts, while two stuck His Darkside-ness in a Decimator.
It’s been said before, but it’s worth repeating, as the evidence bears it out time and again: the Emperor is the game’s most expensive upgrade, and worth every point. He was originally billed as a way to help green-dice dependent Imperial arc-dodgers survive bad luck, but he does even more for a list than that: when you outmaneuver your foe, Palp turns your aces into murder machines with guaranteed crits. A number of players have gone so far as to say there is no third ship that can help an Imperial list more than Palp in a shuttle.
Some players counter: unless your third ship is a TIE Defender with X/7. Imperial Veterans might not have been able to bring the TIE Bomber back to the top tables, but nine of the top Imperial pilots brought an X/7 Defender, six brought two, and a couple brought three. Of those, Vessery was the most popular pilot, with Countess Ryad a close second; both boast incredible action economy, especially when paired with each other. The Defender remains a largely linear ship, and the X/7 title encourages you to fly predictably, but sometimes, predictability doesn’t matter.
Winners & Losers
The Rebels are the faction that had the least representation at Worlds this year, with only ten of the top 41 players taking that faction. While one of them flew a Fat-Han-plus-Jake list that would have looked right at home at Worlds 2014, most lists showed at least some concession to recent expansions. The stars of the show, perhaps surprisingly, were Miranda Doni and Sabine Wren. Sabine adds the little bit of extra damage to Miranda’s bombs that helps keep the pressure up when she SLAMs and penetrates layered defenses. Between Miranda, Corran, and Poe, the theme of rebel regeneration continues to be alive and well, with Super Dash hanging around as well. And much respect to the player who said, “Screw it, I’m taking bombs,” loaded up three K-Wings, and bombed his way to six wins. It’s the sort of thing I’d imagine doing if I had the guts… and three K-Wings… and, you know, skill.
But when it comes to sticking to your guns, the highest props have to be given to the lone unreformed Triple U-Boat player who torpedoed his foes into submission even without the benefit of Deadeye. Fun fact: R4 Agromech is still a solid upgrade card. Getting a focus and a target lock out-of-order is only a little worse (1/16 worse, to be precise) than getting them in the proper sequence, and if you get good luck on the shot and can keep the target lock, it greatly enhances your second round of torpedo shots.
The recent design emphasis on getting ordnance back into the game appears to have worked. While alpha strike lists haven’t taken over (at least since the Deadeye nerf), more than a quarter of the top 41 lists had a missile or torpedo, which is even more remarkable considering how many lists ran ships with no missile or torpedo slots. (Like, basically all of the Imperials.) But on the topic of upgrade cards, there is one upgrade card that was surprisingly MIA: Veteran Instincts.
Have you seen me?
In all the lists that appeared in the top 41, there were only three total copies of Veteran Instincts. In last year’s Worlds, there were three copies of VI just on the top table. There has been a significant change of late in how we value Pilot Skill. I credit this to the rise of two new castes of ship: mid-PS ships with abilities so valuable that low-to-middling PS isn’t a turn-off, and PS8 ships with pilot abilities that depend upon EPTs other than VI to maximize. I can (and plan to) do a whole article on Pilot Skill at a later date. For now, it’s enough to know that 23 of the 41 top lists featured at least one ship that was neither the lowest nor the highest PS ship of its type—a sharp break from last year.
Veteran Instincts and swarm lists are just a sample of the things we didn’t see much of at Worlds. Here are some of the others that didn’t get much representation in the top 41:
-Control lists. A few of the Scum players ran Lancers to get control effects, but aside from that and a few of Miranda’s bombs, there was a distinct lack of ion, stress, or tractor effects in the top 41, to say nothing of lists built around them. R3-A2, the God of Stress, was a particularly noteworthy no-show, given how ubiquitous he was at the last Worlds. Speaking of the Lancer, though:
-Non-Scum Wave 9. Scum had a great time with wave 9, getting yet another solid, versatile large ship with a generous dial (go figure!) and a ship that lives in the gray area between arc dodger and jouster in the Protectorate fighter. The other ships in the wave? Eh, not so much. We could have expected this, though. Both the TIE/sf and the ARC have a lot more options available to them than the Protectorate, so perhaps it’s just taking people a little longer to come up with power lists for them and/or learn how to fly them. Generally speaking, Worlds is not the time to be testing new stuff.
-TIE/D Defenders. This surprised me. When Veterans first arrived, I thought that the superior firepower of the TIE/D title made it a worthy rival to the X/7 Defender. Vessery, in particular, struck me as a splendid candidate for TIE/D because his pilot ability makes the cannon shot that much more powerful. The crowd at Worlds appears to disagree. All of the Defender pilots opted for X/7, including all eight Vesseries. (Vesserys?)
-Filler ships. We’re not talking about swarms here– we’re talking about getting to the end of the list construction process, having, say, eleven points left over, and thinking to yourself, “Darn, should I pile on a few more upgrades, or cut a few to squeeze in a Z-95/Academy Pilot/Prototype A-Wing?” In years past, the preferred choice was to take the filler ship. Not this year: the top players opted almost universally to overload their ships, even small ships, with upgrades rather than take another ship to clog the table. (Note the Mirandas with 24 points of upgrades on a 29 point base-cost ship!) Discounting the Rebel swarm, the cheapest ships in the field were one Wampa, one Zealous Recruit in a Protectorate fighter… and then we’re into Y-Wing territory, and Y-Wings aren’t filler at all.
Where We Stand?
A major tournament like Worlds is a snapshot of where people’s heads are at. What we’ve learned by looking at it is that the game has changed considerably just in the past year. Some may cite this as evidence of power creep, and that’s a case that can be made. In other cases, new faces are fitting into familiar archetypes. And in yet others, older ships are finding new life thanks to recent upgrade cards, whether meant for that ship (TIE X/7) or not. This much is for sure: the game is very dynamic right now, and the face of it can change dramatically in a year. If you’ve been following the tournament scene you’ve probably seen these developments as they were happening, but the contrast from 2015 to 2016 is very sharp when you compare the two directly. With people still figuring out how to use Wave 9’s new entries, and with Wave 10 on the horizon, it’s a fair bet that Worlds 2017 will be different from this year. How? I don’t know– but I can’t wait to find out!
~What’s your take on where things stand in the X-Wing meta?
ChahDresh is an amateur writer and even more amateurish X-Wing player. If you think you know what’s coming next, let him know below.